by Ed Lyon
Javon Davis, aka James Lamar Davis, was talking to his girlfriend on the phone during the wee hours of April 12, 2014 as two men were gunned down while leaving their workplace at Target Field.
During what Hennepin County cops called an investigation, a statement was coerced from one of the victims, with whom Davis had a prior problem, stating Davis was the shooter. Prosecutors proceeded to trial and won a conviction with an accompanying 28-year prison term. This, despite the sole witness recanting his coerced statement on the witness stand, testifying he was certain Davis was “not at the scene of the crime” and that he “did not want to send an innocent man to prison.”
Once in prison, Davis reached out to the Innocence Project of Minnesota·(IPMN) for help. So impressed with their initial interview of Davis and the facts of the case, IPMN assembled a team of attorneys composed of director Julie Jonas, James Mayer and Jon Hopeman. Third-year law students Rachel Melby and Maria de Sam Lazaro joined the team as investigators and general assistants, contributing hundreds of hours.
On March 2 2020, the IPMN team and prosecutors appeared before District Judge Paul Scoggin. Irrefutable records from cellular telephone towers proved Davis was seven miles away from the shooting when it occurred. Irregularities with the jury seeing the interrogation video full of police misconduct were addressed. Judge Scoggin vacated the conviction, opining in part “it is difficult to imagine the case thus submitted to the jury leading to guilty verdicts.” He especially castigated trial and appeal level defense attorneys for their ineffective assistance. After the hearing, prosecutors dismissed the charges against Davis “in the interests of justice.” He was released from prison on March 5.
Granted, defense counsel were not effective. However, if police had done a proper investigation of the crime to begin with, Davis would never have been charged, much less convicted. Our governments have nearly unlimited resources with which to conduct thorough investigations and most companies are all too happy to fully cooperate with law enforcement in any way they can. A proper police investigation into the crime could have uncovered the exact same exonerating evidence in days that it took the IPMN team three years to assemble.
Judge Scoggin should have ascribed some blame for Davis’ wrongful conviction to the cops for their shoddy, lackadaisical investigation and the prosecutors who accepted and tried such a case that was, at best, shaky.
Sources: law.umn.edu, minnesota.cbslocal.com, startribune.com
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